10/06/04 — Lower the bar: How to enable more students to ‘pass’

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Lower the bar: How to enable more students to ‘pass’

Far more North Carolina students now are performing at or above grade level.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that under the established standards, students may correctly answer as few as one-third of the math questions and 40 percent of the reading questions to be adjudged as performing at “grade level.”

As expressed by one education professor at UNC-Greensboro, the bar has been set so low that a student “could almost fall over it.”

This is borne out by the fact that the tests have multiple choice answers. Conceivably, a student could ignore the questions and randomly check the “answers” and attain a “grade-level” score.

But Lou Fabrizio, the state testing director, explains: “If you set a standard too high, you give people a false negative.”

One must be tempted to contemplate the converse possibility: If the standard is set too low, you give people “a false positive.”

Since some of our folks are reveling in the feel-good aura of academic progress brought on by 81 percent of our students “passing” the state tests this year, perhaps we should consider a revision.

Instead of requiring them to get 30 to 40 percent of the correct answers, put the “bar” even lower — like requiring them to answer only 10 to 20 percent of the questions correctly.

We also could rethink this business of multiple-choice answers. Having to choose between three or four possible answers might be overly challenging. Why not give the student a “choice” of only one answer?

With this refinement of testing, the only way a student could score below 100 percent would be by misspelling his or her name.

Should that occur with disturbing frequency, we could always “grade on a curve.”

Published in Editorials on October 6, 2004 11:54 AM